Skills minister calls on sector to bid for ownership of new FE Guild

The Government is to fund a new professional body for further education and put on hold plans to scrap the requirement for lecturers to be qualified teachers, official documents revealed this week.

Ministers yesterday invited bids from outside organisations to run the Further Education Guild which could be up and running by next spring, following up on proposals which were exclusively revealed two weeks ago by FE Week.

Simultaneously, the further education minister John Hayes said that “existing requirements for minimum qualifications [for further education lecturers] are being retained for the time being”, following concerns about the effect scrapping them would have on the “reputation of the sector”. The Institute for Learning said that 80 per cent of its members who responded to consultation on the issue thought scrapping the requirement would deprofessionalise the sector.

I’m immensely excited by the prospect of the creation of this guild”.

The new guild’s functions are likely to include, says the Government, setting professional standards and codes of behaviour for members; developing qualifications for those working in the sector; supporting training; and strategic planning.

The guild, which ministers say will be an “employer-led partnership”, is being designed to act as a focal point for Government efforts to promote professionalism in the sector. Bidders for start-up costs to run the guild could include sectoral bodies and unions.

The move is set out in a prospectus, called “Developing a Guild for Further Education”, which has been sent to leading sector stakeholder bodies by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

It begins with a foreword by John Hayes, the FE minister, in which he says he is “immensely excited by the prospect of the creation of this guild”.

The prospectus then sets out proposals which, in relation to the guild, are identical to that in a leaked document presented to the Government’s Further Education and Skills Ministerial Advisory Panel (FESMAP) last month and revealed by FE Week on July 18th.

The Guild would offer institutional and individual membership, the latest paper confirms, both of which would be on a voluntary basis.

FE providers would be encouraged to take out corporate membership of the guild, which would signal a commitment to professional development, says the paper, while for the individual lecturer, training courses provided by the guild would be linked to higher level qualifications.

The guild would also seek “to enhance the reputation and status of the sector as a whole through providing a single, collective focus for raising standards of professionalism and being a custodian of excellence”.

It is understood that organisations who would be eligible to bid to run the guild include the Association of Colleges, the 157 Group, the Association of Learning Providers and unions, although BIS is keen not to be prescriptive in its approach as to who should apply, with any employer led body who has a commitment to professional development in the sector encouraged to come forward.

Ministers are offering funding for unspecified start-up costs, similar from to that offered to other sectors through the Government’s £34 million Growth and Innovation Fund, with some further Government funding after this a possibility.

The Hospitality Guild, which was set up last year for the hotel and catering sector, is being seen as a model for the FE version. It is run by People 1st, the sector skills council for the hospitality sector, in collaboration with 15 organisations.

The FE Guild is being set up quickly, with organisations expected to put in outline bids by September 14th, with a “preferred bidder” then working up detailed proposals by the end of October. The organisation itself could be up and running by next April, though BIS says it wants to be guided by bidding organisations as to a final timescale.

This is a sector-led initiative. If the sector is not enthusiastic about it, we probably won’t be doing it.”

In his foreword, Mr Hayes appears to acknowledge that the move has come following concerns about Government proposals, published earlier this year, for FE staff no longer to be required to be qualified teachers.

He writes: “I have noted in particular the concerns for the reputation of the sector if government regulations requiring minimum qualifications are removed at this time, without first establishing a firmer basis on which the sector can regulate itself and promote ever-higher aspirations. I share those concerns and take them very seriously.”

The establishment of the guild would be, then, one of two responses to this concern. The other, set out in the document, is that the sector’s current requirements for “minimum qualifications” are “retained for the time being”.

The length of this stay-of-execution for the qualified teacher requirement is not being specified. But the stance would appear to put Mr Hayes at odds with that controversially adopted last week by Michael Gove, the education secretary, who is now allowing academies in the schools sector to take on unqualified teachers.

Dr Susan Pember, director of further education and skills investment and performance at BIS, told FE Week that the guild proposals would only be taken forward with support from the sector.

She said: “This is a sector-led initiative. If the sector is not enthusiastic about it, we probably won’t be doing it.”

There was little dissent from stakeholders when the plans were put forward at the FESMAP meeting last month, and Ms Pember said she expected it to be welcomed.

She said: “This is a really exciting endeavour. It’s a chance to bring together FE in a way that’s not happened before. We want to make sure that this is employer-led, working with the employee voice in a really intelligent way.”

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, said:  “The government’s proposal for a sector-led guild builds on the freedoms and flexibilities that have been created over the past two years, and the 157 Group is keen to work in partnership with other sector bodies as the sector takes charge of its own future.

“This offers an excellent opportunity for us to help reshape the FE landscape and raise the profile of vocational education. John Hayes’s vision of a vocational craft guild that meets the needs of the economy and society in the 21st century recognises that vocational education should be held in the highest esteem.”

However, not all within the sector are keen. One source who was at the FESMAP meeting said the plans raised many questions, including how a guild would co-exist with existing organisations.

The move to put on hold the scrapping of the requirement for qualified teacher status in FE was welcomed by the Institute for Learning.

Dr Jean Kelly, director of professional development at IfL, said: “IfL has made a strong case for initial teacher education and for a qualified teaching and training workforce, and it is right that the government has taken note of our members’ views.

“More than 5,300 IfL members responded to IfL’s consultation earlier this year, and 87 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that teaching qualifications should be mandatory on a national basis.

“Around 80 per cent thought that removing the national requirement for teaching qualifications would deprofessionalise the sector.”

The move to put on hold the scrapping of the requirement for qualified teacher status in FE was welcomed by the Institute for Learning.”